Iowa Senate district 25 preview: Tracy Freese vs. Annette Sweeney

Voters in Iowa Senate district 25 will elect a successor to disgraced former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix on April 10. The special election campaign is happening on a compressed timetable because the vacancy arose during the Iowa legislature’s session. Dix should have faced pressure to resign last year over his many missteps in handling sexual harassment in the Senate GOP caucus. Instead, he stepped down unexpectedly last week after publication of a video and photographs showing him “in a romantic relationship” with a lobbyist.

Local Democrats nominated Tracy Freese for the special election on March 17. Sweeney won the GOP nomination three days later. The former Republican lawmaker will be heavily favored on April 10 and in the November election for a full four-year term. However, if Freese keeps it closer than expected, the special election may provide a snapshot of high Democratic voter engagement, like the recent over performance by Todd Wendt in Iowa Senate district 3 and Rita DeJong in Iowa House district 6.

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Whitver, Schneider to lead Iowa Senate GOP; Failor out as top aide

Iowa Senate Republicans elected new leaders today following Bill Dix’s unexpected resignation on March 12. Jack Whitver moves up from Senate president to majority leader, and Charles Schneider moves up from majority whip to Senate president. Amy Sinclair, who has been one of four assistant majority leaders, moves up to majority whip. Jake Chapman will take her place as an assistant leader.

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Bill Dix was never as smart as he thought he was

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix’s eighteen-year legislative career ended today after Iowa Starting Line published a video and photographs showing Dix and a lobbyist snuggling in a Des Moines bar on March 1. The majority leader did not comment on the alleged relationship in any statement to the media or in his resignation letter.

State lawmakers having affairs with lobbyists is hardly a new phenomenon, but given the potential for abuse of power, as well as the massive media coverage of the sexual harassment problem in the Iowa Senate GOP caucus, you’d think Dix would avoid having such an intimate conversation in public.

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Weekend thread: Statewide candidate edition

Iowa will soon have its first new secretary of agriculture since 2007. The U.S. Senate confirmed Bill Northey on February 27 as undersecretary for farm production and conservation at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He should have been confirmed months ago; senators on the Agriculture Committee unanimously endorsed his nomination in October. But Senator Ted Cruz of Texas held the nomination over a Renewable Fuel Standard dispute that has nothing to do with Northey’s portfolio.

Once Northey resigns as Iowa secretary of agriculture, Governor Kim Reynolds will appoint his longtime deputy Mike Naig to fill that post for the rest of this year, the governor’s office announced on March 1. I enclose Naig’s official bio below. One of five Republicans who have said they will run for Northey’s job, Naig formally launched his campaign for that office on March 2. At this writing, only Craig Lang has qualified for the primary ballot. Other declared GOP candidates are Ray Gaesser, Chad Ingels, and Dan Zumbach. UPDATE: Northey posted on Twitter March 6, “I heartily endorse Mike Naig as our next Iowa Ag Secy. Mike has been a great partner as my Deputy Secy of ag for 4+ yrs. Mike is ready to lead. Let’s elect Mike in June & Nov!”

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Pat Grassley not running for Iowa secretary of agriculture

State Representative Pat Grassley tweeted this afternoon that he will seek re-election in Iowa House district 50. The six-term Republican lawmaker was widely seen as a likely 2018 candidate for Iowa secretary of agriculture, since the current office-holder Bill Northey will leave the state upon confirmation to a senior U.S. Department of Agriculture post. Grassley doesn’t seem to have been laying the groundwork for a statewide campaign, though. He reported just $31,900 in campaign contributions during 2017. About three-quarters of his haul came from political action committees that give to many state legisators.

The House Appropriations Committee chair represents what should be a safe GOP seat, even in a less favorable election climate. House district 50 contains just 3,773 active registered Democrats, 8,953 Republicans, and 7,244 no-party voters, according to the latest figures from the Iowa Secretary of State’s office. Donald Trump outpolled Hillary Clinton here by 64.4 percent to 30.4 percent. I enclose below a map of the district, covering Grundy County and parts of Hardin and Butler counties.

Another prospective secretary of agriculture candidate, former State Representative Annette Sweeney, accepted a federal job in November as state director for USDA Rural Development.

At least two Republicans will seek to succeed Northey. Former Iowa Farm Bureau Federation President Craig Lang announced his candidacy in October. He is keeping his cards close to the chest; his campaign financial disclosure showed only $5,600.00 in contributions, including a $5,000 check from himself.

American Soybean Association Chairman Ray Gaesser created a campaign committee last week. Scroll to the end of this post for background on the latest GOP candidate.

Governor Kim Reynolds has not said whom she will appoint to lead the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship through 2018. Recent rumors have centered around a placeholder with no plans to run for the office: Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig. UPDATE: In early February, Naig told the Des Moines Register that he will seek the GOP nomination for Northey’s job.

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